William Blake would produce a series of designs which would complement the original texts in the Book of Job. Initially, he released watercolours based on specific passages from the text but later chose to create engravings that were then used to release series of prints that could be distributed far and wide. Many consider the set of engravings to have been his finest achievement within that medium and he also managed to earn a good profit from this series of work, which was relatively unusual for this artist, despite being as gifted as he was. The earlier watercolours were produced between 1806 and 1821 in two sets and they are discussed individually within our paintings section, whilst here we examine the series of engravings as a whole. The artist would use literature as a source of inspiration throughout his career and enjoyed producing work that could sit side-by-side with the original texts.
Job was an important figure to William Blake, an artist who himself was relatively in favour of moving away from the modern culture of materialism. He believed in a purity of life, and that material gain was not necessarily good for the soul nor one's connection to God. He would therefore take on this figure many times within his career, with several examples of portraits of Job and his family appearing even before either the watercolours or engravings as mentioned here. There would also be a connection between each body of work with the earliest drawings then influencing further work and so on up to the final engravings of around 1826. Published prints were an important method by which the artist could spread his reputation further and wider, whilst also making nominal amounts for each series that he chose to release. The same approach has been used by countless other artists across Northern Europe, including many from the Netherlands who made use of their well-connected trading ports to spread their creations far and wide.
Across the breadth of his career, Blake would make use of different sources for inspiration. He picked classic poetry and also relied on religious scripture as well. Morality was a fundamental part of many of his works and the same theme runs throughout The Book of Job, where we are warned about the consequences of being too materialistic and losing touch with a purer lifestyle. Blake himself would often embellish or adjust these famous texts when converting them into a visual form, believing that his own imagination and flair could further improve upon the earlier literature. This was by no means an arrogant move, merely a desire for self-expression and the acknowledgement of the inherent differences between these artistic disciplines - after all, he was both a poet and a painter, and so was entirely well placed to understand the differences.
William Blake Watercolours and Printed Engravings for The Book of Job